Pirates hope to catch Estrada
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The Pirates' search for a catcher to push or supplant Ronny Paulino has added another prominent name: Johnny Estrada.
They are one of three teams seriously bidding for his services through free agency, though that field could expand once more potential suitors have a chance to examine his medical records. The other two teams are not known.
He likely will push for a one-year contract, a term the Pirates probably would prefer with any free agent. He made $3.4 million last season and surely will seek a raise.
Estrada, a 31-year-old switch-hitter, is coming off a down season in which he batted .278 with 10 home runs and struggled mightily to throw out opposing baserunners, preventing only 11 of 84 attempts. But he topped .300 in three of the previous four seasons and has a .280 career average.
At PNC Park, his career average is .397 in 58 at-bats.
One possible explanation for the 2007 slide: After catching 113 games for Milwaukee this past season, Estrada had a bone spur removed from his right elbow by Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist. He also had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right knee.
Estrada has been throwing and hitting for more than a month, and he is expected to be recovered fully by January.
The surgeries were not all that was unsettling about Estrada's offseason. The Brewers traded him to the New York Mets in late November and, shortly after the Mets acquired Brian Schneider from the Washington Nationals earlier this month, they non-tendered Estrada. He would have been in his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Because so many vacancies around Major League Baseball were filled while Estrada remained the Mets' property, he almost surely will not be able to command his previously expected salary.
The Pirates insist that Paulino will be their starting catcher in 2008, but various pursuits strongly suggest they remain open-minded on that front:
• Another free agent believed to be on their radar is Miguel Olivo, who was non-tendered by the Florida Marlins. Olivo, 29, batted .237 with 16 home runs while catching 119 games last year.
• There have been preliminary talks with free agent Damian Miller. Miller, 38, was Estrada's backup in Milwaukee last season and batted .237 with four home runs while catching 56 games. Three of those home runs and 10 of his 24 RBIs came against the Pirates.
• The Pirates also have had trade talks with the San Diego Padres regarding Michael Barrett.
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NOTES -- First baseman Adam LaRoche's second MRI of the offseason showed good progress in his left knee, which was swollen for much of last season's final four months. He is expected to recover fully, with no surgery, in plenty of time for spring training. ... General manager Neal Huntington continues to scan for right-handed relievers, but it would not be an upset if no major-league free agent is added. One agent yesterday described the Pirates as simply "feeling around" for bullpen help.
First Published December 18, 2007 12:00 am